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Telltale Signs of an Addiction to the Internet

According to SAMHSA, “While time spent on the Internet can be hugely productive, for some people compulsive Internet use can interfere with daily life, work and relationships.” This is one of the most important telltale signs of addiction to the Internet: a necessary act or enjoyable pastime becomes a compulsion and a life-altering fixation.

How Do I Know If Someone Has an Addiction to the Internet?

addicted to the internet

It can be hard to know what constitutes an internet addiction.

Sometimes, people confuse an obsession with an addiction. If a person wants to spend all their free time online but is still able to work, go to school, and spend time with their loved ones, they may be obsessed with the Internet, but they are not in need of treatment. Addicts will not be able to stop themselves from going online constantly, to the detriment of every other part of their lives. They will often feel like they don’t have a choice.

Some of the clearest signs that a person is addicted to the Internet are:
  • Becoming angry or hostile when confronted about their excessive Internet use
  • Feeling more comfortable being on the computer than anywhere else
  • Needing “to spend ever-increasing amounts of time online to feel the same sense of satisfaction,” also known as tolerance (Better Health Channel)
  • Using the Internet to cope with any negative feelings they feel
  • Constantly thinking about, talking about, or engaging in activities that have to do with the Internet whenever not online
  • Going online at inappropriate times (ex: during school or work, when meant to be spending time with friends or family, etc.)
  • Trying to cut down on Internet time and not being able to, or being asked to cut down and refusing
  • Neglecting loved ones and obligations in order to spend more time online
  • Experiencing “unpleasant withdrawal symptoms” when unable to use the computer such as anxiety, irritability, anger, and depression
    • This is similar to a drug dependency syndrome where the user experiences an intense withdrawal syndrome when they suddenly stop taking the drug.
Many individuals also have sub categories of Internet addiction including:
  • Sex
  • Online relationships
  • Gaming
  • Learning/information

However, in some cases, a person may stay online for hours, bouncing from website to website or even spending all that time on just one. The most important sign, though, is that of uncontrollability. Because addiction is caused by a compulsive need to do something, the individual will not be able to stop, even if they realize they have a problem.

Sometimes other problems can be the cause of Internet addiction (such as shyness or trouble socializing, escapism, etc.), but it is important to look for the most harmful signs of the condition. This is because “problematic computer use is a growing social issue which is being debated worldwide” and should be taken seriously when it occurs as a true medical condition rather than mere obsessive behavior (NCBI).

The signs of this addiction strongly mirror those of substance use disorders which is why individuals who become compulsive Internet users need to seek help. Looking for these signs can allow you to recognize whether someone just enjoys being online more than anything else or whether they are suffering from a possible psychological disorder.